Alijah Vera-Tucker NFL Draft Profile
Our USC readers are familiar with Vera-Tucker’s skillset, and Chargers fans have become more familiar with him due to the frequency in which he has been mocked to the Chargers over the last couple of months. His play over the last two seasons has him in the conversation for the third-best offensive lineman in the draft class. At 6’4 and 315 pounds, he has the ideal build to play guard at the next level, more on that later. Whoever drafts him will get a plug and play offensive lineman.
Top Three Player Traits
He started at left guard next to Austin Jackson in 2019 and made a name for himself with his strong and consistent play. Then, the Trojans needed him to play left tackle in 2020 and he was able to kick outside and really excelled at the position. That versatility is a big selling point for NFL teams. Some analysts project him best at guard, but I do firmly believe that he can excel as a left tackle in the NFL.
The Green Bay Packers have been very fortunate to have Elgton Jenkins and his versatility over the last two seasons. He has taken reps at tackle, guard, and center and excelled at each spot. He is the best insurance policy any team has in an offensive lineman, and I think Vera-Tucker has that same kind of potential.
Some might view him as a master of none, but having that kind of swiss army knife potential should carry a lot of weight for NFL teams. The Chargers refused to reshuffle their offensive line last season when Trai Turner got hurt and they went through six players at right guard; having a player like Vera-Tucker would allow them to plug any kind of hole in the unit and keep it afloat by getting the best five players on the field.
Second Level Mobility
Penei Sewell is the best athlete of any offensive lineman in this class, and Texas’ Samuel Cosmi might be second. But no one executes blocks at the second level like Vera-Tucker. He works angles to perfection and anticipates where defenders are going to be, and he’s no chump in terms of athleticism either. This attribute makes him perfect for a zone-blocking scheme that will allow him to get out in space and block at the second level. This applies to his evaluation both at guard or tackle.
Consistency And High Floor
Drafting Vera-Tucker is not going to be looked at as a sexy pick. I would understand someone preferring a Cosmi or Christian Darrisaw type of player because of their athletic traits at left tackle. One could argue that those two have higher ceilings, but I view those two players as a bit more high risk-high reward than Vera-Tucker. I think the former USC standout has a very high floor and high ceiling. He’s the safe pick due to his consistency and versatility. What you see with Vera-Tucker is what you get on a weekly basis. He does not play down to the competition, he does not have lapses in technique, he does not have a glaring weakness or question marks.
Top Three Player Traits To Improve Upon
Overcoming Length Deficiencies
It’s hard to improve upon a trait that is purely physical that doesn’t have to do with conditioning. Vera-Tucker won’t suddenly grow longer arms, and that will be his biggest challenge in the NFL. He measured in with 32 and 1/8th inch arms, which is much shorter than many had anticipated. The benchmark for length for premier offensive tackles has generally been 33 inches.
It seems likely that most teams already had him listed as a guard, but the ones on the fence probably made that switch after seeing those measurements. Chargers fans are very familiar with this kind of situation after the Chargers drafted Forrest Lamp, who also had 32-inch arms. Lamp struggled to stay on the field, but the Chargers never gave him a chance to survive at tackle, and only played him at guard.
Players who are smart enough and athletic enough can overcome the lack of length and play at a high level at tackle, and I believe that is the case for Vera-Tucker. However, NFL teams likely do not share that same sentiment. He will likely be a “break glass in case of emergency” tackle and when he does, he’ll have to work twice as hard as his peers due to his lack of length.
Diversity As A Pass Blocker
This is something that should improve with more game reps, especially if he were given the chance to be a full-time tackle. A lot of people want to bring up the Pac-12 championship when talking about Vera-Tucker’s potential to play tackle, and they bring it up because Kayvon Thibodeaux supposedly exposed Vera-Tucker’s lack of athleticism. To me, that is not the case. To me, the problem with that particular game is that Vera-Tucker wasn’t diverse enough with his hand placement.
Going back to Rashawn Slater, who also is an undersized tackle, he was able to go up against Chase Young and be so successful because he is very diverse as a pass blocker. Had Vera-Tucker played even a full season before facing Thibodeaux, I have no doubt he would have been able to shut Thibodeaux down. He played very well against the Oregon standout for 85% of that game, and that would have changed if he had a more diverse hand fighting package.
The biggest weakness Vera-Tucker possesses as a guard is maintaining a positive pad level. There are times where he was a little inconsistent in this regard, it’s nitpicking but it does happen. One of the games I was most interested in going back and watching from his 2019 tape was against Utah. That year the Utes had Leki Fotu and John Penisini up front and were likely the two best defensive tackles that Vera-Tucker faced that year, or at least the best against the run. Fotu in particular won some battles due to Vera-Tucker being a little too tall with his pad level.
This is the challenge in evaluating someone who has played at multiple spots along the offensive line and never really played in a pro-style running scheme. He should be able to improve this aspect of his game with more reps.
Overall, Vera-Tucker is a premier offensive line prospect in this draft class. His versatility will be very appealing to NFL teams, which is something Chargers’ fans will grow to appreciate with the recently signed Matt Feiler. I view him as an Elgton Jenkins type of player who can serve as a swiss army knife and excel at all five spots. Personally, I would love to see him get the chance to play at tackle but I do think he has a very high ceiling as a guard.